McAlister’s Deli® Finds Enthusiastic Customer Base on College Campuses
McAlister’s Deli® Finds Enthusiastic Customer Base on College Campuses

The not-just-a-deli concept has proven a big hit among college students

McAlister’s Deli® has found success in a diverse set of markets and venues. With over 400 restaurants throughout 28 states, the fast-casual brand has proven viable among a range of demographics. In recent years, one venue has proven particularly lucrative: college campuses.

Paul Macaluso, President of McAlister’s Deli, said that the franchise’s high-quality, affordable deli fare is a big draw for college students.

“McAlister’s has a unique menu with a ton of attractive options, and those are options that tend to be familiar and comforting to college students,” said Macaluso. “Sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes, sweet tea, soups—all really satisfying, hearty foods that college students crave and can’t find at most of the other affordable, quick-service restaurants.”

The quick-service segment has always found a strong customer base in college students, who, as a demographic, are less likely to patronize more expensive full-service restaurants or cook for themselves. But as American consumers become increasingly health-conscious, many quick-service restaurants are falling out of favor, putting more wholesome options like McAlister’s in a unique position to capture consumers who are avoiding other corners of the segment.

Macaluso said that McAlister’s commitment to high-quality ingredients has recently become a major selling point for the franchise, particularly for their restaurants on or near college campuses.

“People are turning away from greasy, fried food, and they are looking for fresh, wholesome options,” said Macaluso. “That has made McAlister’s more popular than ever before. We’ve got amazing salads and hearty sandwiches, all handmade with fresh, high-quality ingredients.”

It’s not just students that have made McAlister’s campus locations so successful. Macaluso notes that visiting families are a sizable and lucrative demographic in their own right.

“Visiting families are not just a seasonal demo. Between sports and academic events, holidays, and seasonal breaks, some campus locations see a nearly year-round circulation of families visiting students. McAlister’s has locations in 28 states, so a lot of families become familiar with the brand, and they opt for that familiarity. Visitors are also looking for comfort food, something that’s going to be a safe bet for their entire family, and that’s one of McAlister’s biggest selling points.”

That persistent influx of customers can pose a challenge rather than a benefit for independent businesses, but McAlister’s owners are buoyed by a dedicated support team in the brand’s corporate office.

“On the corporate level, everything that we do is designed to set our franchisees up for success,” said Macaluso. “Between guiding them through the grand opening process and making ourselves accessible to lend a helping hand whenever needed, our top priority is ensuring that the McAlister’s model is working in every market it calls home. By helping our franchisees reach their full potential, whether they’re single or multi-unit operators, we’re helping position the McAlister’s brand for continued growth in the long run.”

As McAlister’s continues to expand its footprint, the development team is finding that many of their most enthusiastic franchisee prospects were introduced to the brand in college.

“Because McAlister’s has such a strong value proposition for college students, we’ve found that a lot of people who had McAlister’s around when they were in college feel a real bond with the brand,” Macaluso said. “It’s comforting, even a little nostalgic. So when these people are looking to open a restaurant, McAlister’s immediately jumps to mind, and they want to share that with new college students. 

McAlister’s is preparing to take full advantage of their success in college markets by opening new locations on or near college campuses throughout the country.

“We’re excited to make McAlister’s a staple of college markets across the country,” said Macaluso. “We’ve found great franchisees in every market we’ve entered, and I don’t see any reason why we won’t continue to find strong partners around college campuses. Our operational model has been fine-tuned and is easily applied. Ultimately, we are just looking for smart, ambitious people who have a passion for the brand. This is an exciting time for McAlister’s, and I’m eager to find great new owners to help us grow."